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Lessons in Trading

The old man sat in the shade of the tiny olive tree, his newspaper folded into a tent upon his balding head. Beside him sat a wooden hand cart, laden with fresh produce that was slowly wilting in the sun.

He stirred and gazed rather hopelessly along the road, then settled back in the creaking wooden chair. He had sold a watermelon at ten o'clock that morning. Thus far, that had been the sum of his trading.

He reached down and pulled a glass bottle of fresh lemonade from beneath the chair and slowly unscrewed the cap, staring ahead at the Dolomite vista on the opposite side of the road. He no longer cared for the view that once drew so many admiring visitors.

He took a long pull from the bottle, then set it back down, licking his lips and sighing. He remembered a time when this road had seen coach loads of tourists, armed with cameras and guide books and, more importantly, wallets fat with money. The road had stayed empty now for three long years.

Another hour passed. The old man snoozed, then removed his tented hat and resumed his reading. He read of meetings of the IMF and the ECB. He read of quantitative easing, and deflating exchange rates. He read of whole countries defaulting on their loans, and other countries being forced into ever deeper debt in order to bail them out. It was, to the old man, nonsense.

He cast the paper aside and turned his attention to the road. A lone figure appeared in the distance; a man, if the old man was any judge, on foot, striding along at an insensible speed in such heat. He shuffled his chair around slightly in order to view the spectacle more easily.

It took the man a full fifteen minutes to reach him, stopping a little breathlessly beside his hand cart. The old man stared at him in astonishment. The young fool was wearing a business suit, dress shirt and tie. His face was slick with sweat and dark patches flowered beneath his arms. A leather briefcase dangled limply from his right hand.

At last the young man recovered sufficiently to speak. 'Are you Salvatore Romano?'

The old man regarded him coldly, then nodded. 'I am.'

The young man nodded and turned to admire the view, wiping the sweat from his face with a monogrammed handkerchief. The old man waited, perplexed. The young man did not strike him as a potential customer.

At last, the young man turned around and smiled nervously. He seemed somewhat more composed. He nodded to the crumpled paper on the floor. 'I see you've been keeping up with events.'

The old man glanced at the paper but said nothing.

'Signore Romano, I have a small business myself and I have travelled a long way to speak with you. You are one of the oldest traders in Europe.'

Salvatore nodded his agreement. It was true. He had been trading from this hand cart for seventy eight years. 'That is so.'

'At this doubtful and troubling time I seek the wisdom of our elders. Tell me, signore, what is the secret of success in business?'

The old man and the young man stared at each other for some time. Then, Salvatore leaned forwards, resting his wrinkled elbows on the worn knee patches of his trousers. 'Son,' he said, earnestly. 'I have to say that in my experience, even in these troubled times, there is one thing a businessman should always remember.'

The young man leaned forwards attentively, eyes wide in anticipation. 'What is it?'

The old man paused a moment, taking a swig from his bottle of lemonade. He offered it to his young visitor, who politely declined. 'Son, the thing to remember, even in such difficult trading conditions as this...'

The young man leaned closer, eagerly awaiting the revelation.

The old man beckoned him closer, glancing left and right as though to ensure no-one might overhear. 'Always have a watermelon in your handcart!'


© 2011 Kay Lawrence.


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